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Improving System Performance (part 2)

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Viewing Performance Information in the Event Log

The Windows Vista operating system keeps track of numerous different events that occur while the system is running. The types of messages include notifications from applications, system-related details, and security events. With relation to performance monitoring and optimization, particular portions of the event logs can be useful.

Operations such as the time it takes to boot the computer are measured and recorded. In some cases, events can clearly identify that the system is working more slowly than is expected. These details can help verify reports from users about slow system performance. They can also be used to measure the effects of making changes.

Event Viewer is the standard application used to monitor events that are recorded on the system. By default, Windows Vista includes dozens of groupings for events. You can launch Event Viewer directly from the Start menu, but the default display shows all of the available event logs on the system. This often makes it challenging to filter the display to show just the information you need.

One easy way to filter the information to view performance-related details is to use the Performance Information And Tools Control Panel window. To do this, in Control Panel, click System And Maintenance and select Performance Information And Tools. Click Advanced Tools, and then click View Performance Details In Event Log. This automatically launches the Event Viewer console and opens the Diagnostics-Performance section. Figure 6 shows an example of the types of events that you can view. (If necessary, you can close the Actions pane to allow more room for you to review these events. To close the Actions pane, click the Show/Hide Action Pane button on the toolbar.)

Figure 6. Viewing performance-related event information

The actual events that are stored are organized into three levels: Information, Warning, and Error. By selecting an item in the list, you can view the details of the issue. Often, the explanatory text gives you insight into the issue and possible ways to resolve it. For example, the process of opening many different windows while the Windows Aero user interface is enabled might reduce overall system responsiveness. Windows Vista automatically monitors for this issue and logs an event whenever it occurs. If the event is occurring frequently, you might decide to either upgrade the computer’s display adapter or disable the Windows Aero desktop feature. Overall, the Event Viewer can be an indispensible tool for viewing information about how Windows Vista is performing.

Configuring Windows Features

The Windows operating system platform includes many potentially useful applications and services. For security and performance reasons, many of these options are not enabled by default on computers running Windows Vista. This approach helps ensure that system resources are not being used for programs that the user might not need. Some examples include network applications such as the Telnet client and server and Tablet PC Optional Components. Each of the available options is known as a Windows Feature.

You can easily turn Windows Features on or off based on users’ needs. If a user or application requires a particular feature, you should probably enable it. Alternatively, if you find that a feature is using a significant amount of system resources even if it is not being used, you can choose to disable it. These functions are available by using the Uninstall A Program link in the Programs section of Control Panel. The Turn Windows Features On Or Off link launches the Windows Features dialog box (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Viewing options in the Windows Features dialog box

You can turn some of the features in the list on or off simply by using the check boxes that are located next to them. In addition, you can view some services and components that provide additional subfeatures by expanding the respective sections. When you click OK, Windows Vista goes through the process of enabling and disabling the relevant features. In some cases, you might be required to reboot the system before the configuration will complete.

Configuring Windows ReadyBoost

One of the easiest methods of improving overall system performance is to add more physical memory (RAM) to the computer. Physical memory is consumed by applications, processes, and services. When many different applications are run on the computer at the same time, however, Windows Vista must try to make the most efficient use of the available memory. Often, the operating system will need to store memory information on the hard disk. This operation is known as paging, and it can slow system performance significantly.

The obvious solution to this problem is to add more physical memory to the computer. There are, however, some potential barriers to this solution. First, purchasing memory can be costly (although prices have decreased dramatically over time). Second, the physical computer itself might not have enough room for expansion. Some systems are physically limited by the number of available memory slots and might have limitations on the storage capacity of installed memory. Finally, there’s the issue of installation: many end users are not comfortable with opening their computers and installing additional memory.

Understanding Windows ReadyBoost

Windows Vista includes a feature called Windows ReadyBoost that allows users to use external memory devices to improve performance. Compatible devices include USB memory drives (often called flash drives or thumb drives), and multimedia cards such as those that are used for portable devices like digital cameras.

ReadyBoost uses a method known as write-through caching to improve performance. This works by automatically storing data to the memory device as well as to the hard disk. Writing to a memory device can be slower than writing to a hard disk. The write-through cache approach ensures that the system does not have to wait for the data to be written to the memory device. It also protects against any potential data loss that might occur if the item is unplugged from the system. For smaller operations, reading from a memory device can be faster than reading from a hard disk. Depending on the patterns of disk activity, Windows Vista can then read the data directly from the memory device rather than going to the physical hard disk. This operation is often significantly faster than accessing the same data from the hard disk.

Note: The role of Windows ReadyBoost

When helping users determine how to upgrade their systems, you’re likely to come across questions about which types of upgrades are best. Should the user purchase and install more physical memory, or will Windows ReadyBoost meet their requirements? The ideal solution is to install more physical RAM in the computer. Memory chips that are installed on the motherboard of a computer run far faster than their flash-based counterparts. Windows ReadyBoost is a good second choice if the user is unable or unwilling to upgrade. A good rule of thumb is to use physical memory whenever possible.

Windows ReadyBoost Requirements

There are several technical and performance requirements that must be met for a device to be compatible with Windows ReadyBoost. The device should be connected directly to a USB 2.0 or media reader port on the computer for maximum performance. When recommending devices to users, it’s best to look for information that specifies that the device is compatible with Windows ReadyBoost. Additionally, Windows ReadyBoost is limited to using up to a maximum of 4.0 GB of space for the Windows ReadyBoost cache, even if the size of the memory device is larger.

Enabling Windows ReadyBoost

The process of enabling the Windows ReadyBoost feature is simple. The first step is to connect an external memory device to the computer. For example, you might connect a USB flash drive to a USB 2.0 port on the physical computer. By default, Windows Vista automatically tests the performance of the device. If it meets the requirements, Windows Vista then prompts you as to whether you would like to use the device with the Windows ReadyBoost feature. If the device did not meet the performance requirements, you can choose to retest it or to stop retesting it in the future. The same options are also available by viewing the ReadyBoost tab in the properties of a memory device. Figure 8 shows the available options.

Figure 8. Enabling Windows ReadyBoost for an external memory device

To enable Windows ReadyBoost, the Use This Device option should be selected on the Ready-Boost tab of the Properties dialog box for the device. Windows Vista also attempts to detect automatically whether a memory device meets the requirements for ReadyBoost when it is plugged in. If it does, you can choose the Speed Up My System option to access these settings directly. The slider enables users to choose how much memory they would like to use on the device. All of the space that is used by Windows ReadyBoost will be unavailable for storing other files. Therefore, users should decide whether they want to use all of the available space, or if they want to use only some of it. After you apply the settings, Windows Vista automatically starts using the external memory device to improve performance. As mentioned earlier, users can remove the memory device at any time without risking the loss of data.

Managing Services

In addition to standard programs that are configured to run on a Windows Vista–based computer, services provide important functionality for keeping the system running properly. Examples include the Workstation service (which enables accessing files and resources over the network), the Windows Time service (for automatically synchronizing the system clock), and the Offline Files service (for automatically synchronizing files between computers).

The default list of services included with Windows Vista is a long one, although most of the services are not enabled by default. Many of these perform important system functions. In addition, the installation of new software might result in the installation of new services.

Viewing Service Configuration Information

Services are programs that are designed to run in the background without requiring user input. They usually run on the system whether or not a user is logged on. This often makes it difficult to “see” which services are running. Even though they usually don’t have a user interface, services do consume system resources while they are running.

The primary method of configuring, starting, and stopping services is the use of the Services console. You open this console by first opening Control Panel and then clicking System And Maintenance. Click Administrative Tools, and then double-click Services. Figure 9 shows the default display of the Services interface.

Figure 9. Managing services by using the Services console

The important configuration-related details include the following:

  • Name The friendly name of the service. Generally, this will provide an overview of the feature or functionality that the service provides.

  • Description A description of the purpose and function of the service in greater detail. Often, the text will also mention which types of functionality might be affected if the service is stopped or disabled.

  • Status Information that specifies the status of the service. The most common values are blank (indicating that the service is not running), or Started (indicating the service is running).

  • Startup Type Startup options that are generally configured in one of three states. Automatic specifies that the service should start whenever the computer is started. Manual specifies that the service will not start automatically, but it can be started manually (by either a user or another program). Finally, Disabled specifies that the service cannot be started by a user or other program. This option is useful when troubleshooting potential performance-related issues.

  • Log On As A field that shows details about which account will be used. Because services do not depend on a user to launch them manually, they must run under the security settings of a particular user account. Most services that are included with the Windows Vista operating system will run using a built-in account such as Local System or Local Service. You can also provide credentials related to a particular user account.

Although the standard Services console display is simple, it does provide the capability to sort the information. A common task is to click the Status column heading to show all of the services that are currently running at the top of the list. You can also click the Startup Type column heading to sort by whether a service is set to Automatic or Manual. If a service has an Automatic startup type, but it is not running, that might indicate a potential configuration issue.

Starting and Stopping Services

The Services console allows you to start and stop services easily. The easiest method is to select the service you want to manage and then click the relevant buttons in the console toolbar. The buttons are as follows:

  • Start Service Starts the service if it is currently stopped.

  • Pause Service Tells the service to run in a paused state.

  • Stop Service Stops the service if it is currently running.

  • Restart Service Stops the service and then immediately restarts it.

The actual effects of each operation are dependent on the service itself. Some services might execute cleanup-related tasks (such as deleting temporary files) before ending. Although not all services can be paused, some can be placed in this state temporarily to prevent them from responding to requests or events.

Overall, by monitoring and managing services, you can identify possible performance issues. You can also make sure that only required programs are using system resources.

Other -----------------
- Improving System Performance (part 1) - Developing a Performance Optimization Approach & Managing Startup Programs
- Using the Windows Vista Performance Tools (part 2)
- Using the Windows Vista Performance Tools (part 2)
- Using the Windows Vista Performance Tools (part 1)
- Configuring Windows Vista Security : Understanding User Account Control (part 2)
- Configuring Windows Vista Security : Understanding User Account Control (part 1)
- Configuring Windows Vista Security : Managing User Accounts
- Using Windows Security Center (part 3) - Configuring Malware Protection
- Using Windows Security Center (part 2) - Configuring Automatic Updating
- Using Windows Security Center (part 1) - Overview of Windows Security Center & Configuring Windows Firewall
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